André Woodley Jr.

founder. engineer. creative.

PWA's Are Finally Looking Good

In the past, I was very dismissive of Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). I felt they were slow, buggy, and provided poor user experiences compared to native apps. As an iOS developer, I'll admit I was biased against them. However, recently my views have changed. Web technology and browser support for PWAs has improved dramatically. 

PWAs now offer several advantages over native apps. 

  1. They are easier for users to access without downloading an app. 
  2. They can provide similar app-like experiences for basic functions. 
  3. There's less hassle with app store approvals and updates happen quicker. 
  4. PWAs can have the same features, like push notifications. 
  5. Avoid paying Apple's 30% cut on in-app purchases. 
  6. Significantly less expensive to build.

Apple doesn't make it as easy to install PWAs, hiding the install button and restricting JavaScript installation. However Android is extremely easy and you can prompt the user to install. Apple's reluctance is likely because PWAs compete with their lucrative App Store business model ($85 billion in revenue in 2022). But the technology has advanced enough that PWAs are now a viable alternative for many use cases.

Overall, PWAs have improved and startups should consider them before building a native app. For basic functions, most apps don't need to be full native apps anymore. PWAs provide a faster, cheaper way to get to market while still providing a quality experience.

Additionally, having a Progressive Web App should be strongly considered if you are providing a web browser experience. The incremental effort to make an existing site installable and app-like is typically quite low. And it allows users to access your product in more seamless app-style way. The most important push for this is there is little to no additional costs to making your website (mobile responsive) a PWA unless it was built wrong and there are plenty of plugins to make it easy.

However, there are still some cases where a native app may be preferable:

  • For products with flaky/unreliable paying customers, the stricter refund policies on the App Store reduce financial risk.
  • Marketing within the app store itself can drive discovery, although web, social, SEO remain viable options.
  • If advanced native functionality is required, leveraging proprietary libraries in the app may provide performance gains.
  • Using something that requires alot of memory like an offline LLM or speech model (this can be GB's).

Majority of the apps we use also have a PWA option: 

  • Starbucks (food)
  • Google Map (map)
  • Pinterest (social)
  • Telegram (chat)
  • 2048 (game)
  • Housing (directory)
  • Spotify (music)
  • Uber (booking)
  • Forbes (news)

Startups should give serious consideration to beginning with a PWA as it allows faster iteration at lower cost and similar high quality experiences. For people and companies starting out - if you want to provide a website experience to your users or already have a website experience you just need a PWA. Please spare yourself the time, money and headache. While PWAs now offer a viable alternative in many cases, companies should evaluate if their specific product needs warrant building a full native app instead. 

Below are a list reference links for PWA's